Fred Nicole: A Climbing Trip To Patagonia
Fred Nicole Thoroughly Enjoying Patagonia
Located at the southern tip of the South American continent , shared between Chili and Argentina, Patagonia is a huge region, somewhat mystical by its large desert spaces. When I travel in such an environment , the first feeling that I have is a slight tipsiness related to the vastness of the landscape without limits and a slight dizziness when you consider how small we are compared to the elements.
I read about those regions in “Conquistadors of the Useless” from Lionel Terray and at the beginning of my climbing life it had fascinated me a lot. Given afterwords I mostly concentrated on bouldering and sport climbing I never imagined that one day I would visit this places. Yet over the last decade several friends including Michael Wyser and Andres Lietha gave me an enthusiastic description about those beautiful boulders in El Chaltén. Since both of them are excellent climbers with lots of experience I had no reason to doubt it. So when they planned their next trip to Patagonia Mary and I decided to jump in.
The arrival at the airport of El Calafate was a good introduction to those famous local winds and the landing gave us some cold sweat. The landscape reminded me of the American Southwest in terms of the desert except that it is much cooler and that a huge lake (Lake Argentino ) appears around the corner of the airport road. It has the typical milky hues related to the melting of the ice of the glaciers.
We spent the first day visiting El Calafate, a town mostly built around the big local attraction El Perito Moreno Glacier. The next day we drove to El Chaltén. The journey took us across wide open spaces . A few horses and some guanacos allowed us to better understand the dimensions of the area otherwise lacking benchmarks. We approached the relief while large cloud formations prevented us from distinguishing the whole massif. We could see the Cerro Fitz Roy and the Aguja Poincenot and we recognized on the left the imposing wall of the the Cerro Torre. No doubt we were in Patagonia.
In terms of bouldering and sport climbing the scene in Argentina is not at rest . People are very active and the general level is quite high. They have also organized a competition for several years at the bouldering sites of El Chaltén .
The first rocks are on the edge of the city, the main area is called Madsen. But you can find boulders a little everywhere. The rock is beautiful and compact. In places it reminds me of a quartzite and in others more of a granite. Hard to say, but the forms and holds are beautiful and most of the lines are clear and pure.
The setting is handsome, the forests are beautiful. My first day of exploration I discovered a new line near a pond on a small plateau with sparse vegetation reminding me a little of the African savannah. An obvious very hard sit start, a throw to a sloper and then another crossing to the left to finally top out on an arête with a dodgy finish because of a rock at the bottom. The first movement took me a long time and even after succeeding it a few times I still managed to fall at the next one. It took me a month to send it. I named it “Larten” which means rock of rain in the local language Tehuelche. I must say that very often (if not always) when I felt ready to try it, it started to rain.
Another line I liked a lot was “El Galeon”, a beautiful prow in a dense forest discovered by Rolando Garibotti and his girlfriend Dörte Pietron, both excellent alpinists and avid boulderers. An unlikely perfect rock that you wouldn’t find in many other places.
Of all the many other boulders I’ve climbed in Patagonia, one left an impression not only in my mind but also on my skin. I managed to climb it on the last day in El Chaltén and I named it “Tauke” (meaning Wind in Tehuelche) an amazing line with small sharp edges.
We lived at “Centro Alpino” a place Carsten von Birckhahn built as a meeting point for alpinists, friends and family. We met many people from all over the world and since the weather was not great for our alpinist friends they very often joined us for a bouldering session including Ueli Steck and his wife Nicole, Michel Pitelka, Corrado Bettoni and Carol Morel just to name a few of them. Some others like Toni Lamprecht and his wife Margit along with Marius, a Catalan, came there just for bouldering. We had a really great time all together! Toni managed to open two new beautiful lines “El Condor” and “La barba del diablo” but everybody had fun trying old lines and finding new ones.
We also traveled a bit and the region of Monte Leone on the Atlantic coast particularly struck me with its almost lunar landscape, or rather with such a savagery that I had the impression of being in prehistoric times. I posted some images of this trip on my Instagram where you now can follow my journey!
Overall a beautiful area that leaves a sweet melancholy once you live it. So hopefully there is a next time…
~ Fred Nicole, prAna Ambassador